Death at Morning House: First Look and Cover Reveal

Maureen Johnson

The following is an exclusive first look and cover reveal for Death at Morning House, the new book by Maureen Johnson, the bestselling author of the Truly Devious books. The new YA mystery, her first standalone in years, features a teen who uncovers a mystery while working as a tour guide on an island, and must solve it before history repeats itself. Death at Morning House is forthcoming from Harperteen in August of this year.


Photo essay in Life magazine, July 1932

Dr. Phillip Ralston of New York City and his wife, theater star Faye Ralston, have certainly mastered the art of good living. And they have quite a lot of lives in their care!

The doctor adopted six of his children in 1915 while working in England during the war. They welcomed their seventh child, Max, four years ago. The doctor and his wife spend most of the year in New York City and the older children board at school. In the summer, they come together in their private paradise in the Thousand Islands region. It is called Ralston Island now, though it was formerly known as Cutter Island. Their magnificent home is called Morning House. Built at a cost of four million dollars, everything in Morning House is designed to foster good health and creativity.

“Whenever my children show a gift in a particular direction,” Dr. Ralston says, “I make sure to nurture it.”

For this purpose, Dr. Ralston called in architect P. Anderson Little of Los Angeles to build a two-story playhouse that would not be out of place in a story by the Brothers Grimm. It is a cheerful place, built of stone, with windows of varying sizes and a turret on the side. Most people would imagine a playhouse to be a small affair—this one is the size of a large family home. The first floor boasts a large library, an art studio, and a room for study. The second floor is high-ceilinged and features a large open space with mirrored walls and a ballet barre, as well as a piano and other musical instruments.

Excerpt continues below cover reveal.

The family follows a precise schedule. They breakfast together at seven thirty each morning. Dr. Ralston and his family follow the natural diet prescribed by institutions such as the Battle Creek Sanitarium. There is no meat, no sugar, no coffee or tea. Instead, the family enjoys large helpings of yogurt, cooked fruits, nut cutlets, stewed peas, and custard. By eight, they are out on the lawn, practicing calisthenics in matching uniforms. The boys and the girls exercise together. After this, the group either swim laps in a walled-off lagoon that serves as an outdoor swimming pool or compete to see who can swim around the island the fastest.

“My daughter Clara is the strongest swimmer in the bunch,” Dr. Ralston adds proudly. “No one can beat her time to the shore and back. We’re working to get her into the next Olympics, though she would rather concentrate on her dancing.”

By nine thirty, exercises are complete for the morning. The children have two hours of instruction led by Dr. Ralston. Topics include medicine, chemistry, heredity, history, politics, and geography. Lunch is served at noon—another round of nourishing natural foods. The children then have the afternoon to pursue their individual interests. There’s another round of swimming at four. If the weather is inclement, they practice diving in the twelve-foot-deep pool in the lower level of the house. At dinner, the family reviews their day. They relax in the evening, sometimes with games, or perhaps with a motion picture.

It’s hard to imagine a more wholesome and idyllic summer than one spent with the Ralstons at Morning House.


The New York Times, July 28, 1932

Tragedy has befallen the family of doctor and philanthropist Dr. Phillip Ralston. His youngest child, Max Ralston, aged four, was found drowned in the waters of the St. Lawrence River yesterday afternoon. It is thought the child left his room while his nurse was asleep and attempted to swim on his own. Hours later, overcome by grief, his oldest sister, Clara, aged 16, jumped four stories from the roof of the house. . . .


From DEATH AT MORNING HOUSE. Used with the permission of the publisher, HARPERTEEN. Copyright © 2024 by Maureen Johnson.

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